Okabena Bridge History
(Story and Photos from May 27 & June 10, 1998 Tri-County News, Heron Lake, Minnesota.)


Old Okabena Bridge
(Photo taken by Barb Gade,  May 1998)


New Okabena Bridge
(Photo taken by Patti Schneider, September 1998)

The "old" Okabena bridge was built in 1936.  Before that, a bridge was located near what is now the Roger Hartman farm driveway where it meets County Road 9.  The gentleman who drew the map below depicting the location of the "old" "old" Okabena bridge is quite a "whiz" at Okabena history.

He said the old road leading out (north) of Okabena used to go around the cemetery and followed the natural high ground on the other side of the creek.  (It approximately followed the current driveway of the Paul Henning farm.) 

Diagram of the "old" "old" bridge by
Weldon Bayerkohler of Okabena.

This old (pre-1936) bridge is reported to have been similar to the current bridge, only narrower and had a wooden deck with ramps on each end.  It was said to be about 12 feet wide - a one car bridge, barely big enough for a school bus to fit through.

The old bridge was deteriorating, too narrow and hard to keep clear of snow.  Before construction began on the 1936 bridge, a lot of grade had to be put in over the low areas to make a more direct path from Okabena to Heron Lake.

The Okabena Press, which touted itself as "Local In Scope, Metropolitan In Character," (and cost 5 cents) ran a short article on February 13, 1936 about the upcoming bridge replacement.  Following is the article in its entirety:

The Lifespan of the "Creekspan"

"Equipment Arrives Here For Bridge Construction"
Owatonna Firm Unloading Equipment Here
February 13, 1936

The first concrete action toward the construction of the new steel bridge between Okabena and Heron Lake took shape last
week with the arrival here of J.R. Williams, of Owatonna, who holds the contract for the building of the bridge.

Mr. Williams brought two truck loads of equipment for the work and this material has been unloaded near the road on the bend at the edge of town.  In addition, a flat car arrived




here loaded with heavier machinery used in the work and Mr. Williams and his assistants unloaded this machinery.

It was Mr. William's intention to return to Owatonna Saturday but the snowstorm compelled him and his men to remain in Okabena until Monday when they left for more machinery. 
Actual construction will get under way as soon as weather conditions permit.

So, the current bridge has lasted 62 years and is being replaced mainly because it is considered too narrow, as was its predecessor.  Gary Stribley, Jackson County Highway Engineer, said the new bridge will be 133 feet long and have a 40 foot roadway.

The contractor of the new bridge, Minnowa from Harmony, MN, is required to wait to begin con- struction until school is out.


Old Okabena Bridge
(Photo courtesy of Tri-County News, May 1998)

"Equipment Arrives"
In this photo work had begun on the Okabena bridge removal in June 1998.  The railings had been removed and the road was closed.  The top was to be removed   next and then the sides dropped after that.


  (Photo courtesy of the Tri-County News, June 10, 1998)

There will be a 10 mile detour once the current bridge is closed if traveling on paved roads.  But locals will probably cut the detour drastically by taking gravel roads around the construction.

The new bridge will be of concrete slab construction - poured concrete with steel reinforcements.  Gone will be the high truss design of the early 1900's.  It will have 2'8" high concrete safety rails.

Specifications require that the rails must withstand a crash test of an 80,000 pound truck at approximately 40 miles per hour.  Unfortunately this design might catch more snow.

The contractors bid was $512,126.50 and they may anticipate completion around the 1st of August with good weather.  The funding is covered by 80% federal highway construction dollars and 20% Minnesota state bridge bond funds.  This bridge could hopefully last 100 years.

(Credit for the information in the above article goes to Jeremy Kolander and Krista Frederickson.  Students at the Southwest Star Concept School in Okabena, they did much of the research for their school project on local history and their findings were used in this article.  Credit is also owed to Weldon Bayerkohler of Okabena for the drawing of the diagram of the location of the old, old bridge.)

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